The head of the Islamic State group in Libya was killed in an air strike overnight, the Pentagon announced Saturday.
Abu Nabil, also known as Wissam Najm Abd Zayd al Zubaydi, was an Iraqi national and an al-Qaeda operative, Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said in a statement.
Cook described Abu Nabil as the senior IS leader in Libya and said he may also have been the spokesman in a February 2015 video showing the execution of Coptic Christians.
The footage released by IS online showed handcuffed hostages wearing orange jumpsuits being beheaded by black-suited captors in a coastal area the group said was in the Libyan province of Tripoli.
“Nabil’s death will degrade ISIL’s ability to meet the group’s objectives in Libya, including recruiting new ISIL members, establishing bases in Libya, and planning external attacks on the United States,” Cook said.
“While not the first US strike against terrorists in Libya, this is the first US strike against an ISIL leader in Libya and it demonstrates we will go after ISIL leaders wherever they operate,” he said.
The Pentagon spokesman said the operation against Abu Nabil was “authorized and initiated prior to the terrorist attack in Paris” on Friday night, in which at least 129 people were killed.
Oil-rich Libya descended into chaos after the fall of Moamer Kadhafi in its 2011 revolution.
IS jihadists are killing more civilians than other warring factions in the North African country, but all sides are committing “large-scale crimes,” International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has said.
The UN has been brokering talks to create a new unity government to end fighting between the army and the militias that seized Tripoli, with the UN envoy to Libya voicing hope that an agreement is imminent.
Saturday’s US announcement came two days after the US military conducted a strike targeting the IS executioner known as “Jihadi John.”
The US has said it is “reasonably certain” that the militant was killed in a drone strike in Syria.
Mohammed Emwazi, whose masked figure appeared in a string of graphic videos showing the beheading of Western hostages, was targeted in a combined British-US operation in Raqa, the de facto IS capital in war-torn Syria.
US Secretary of State John Kerry warned Friday that the IS group’s “days are numbered.”